Why Silence Marks the 100th Birth Anniversary of MF Husain


Hundred years ago, on the banks of River Bhima, in the pilgrimage city of Pandharpur, born into the Sulaymani Bohra family, today, was the man referred to as the ‘Picasso of India’ Maqbool Fida Husain (MF Husain). From being the most famous modern artist of India, to the man who had to flee his own country fearing death, Husain’s journey has been a mixture of fame and hatred.

Today, while Google decided to celebrate the artist’s 100th birthday, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has raised opposition to this gesture by Google.

A self-taught artist, Husain started off his career as a painter of cinema hoardings, and also designed and toys for a toy company. It was in 1947, at the Bombay Art Society exhibition that he was first noticed. He had won an award in the annual exhibition.

There was no turning back after that. He was invited to join the Progressive Artist’s Group. Subsequently, some remarkable experiments gave the world of Art some inspiring works.

His experiments in the later part of his career raised many opposition, which went to the extent of life threats. The most loved artist, was later seen as a ‘anti-national’ or ‘anti-Hindu’ for his paintings.

Protesting the tribute paid to Husain, RSS, today, tweeted:

Google India should apologise for insulting the nation and Hindus by Showing the MF Hussain on his front page.

Husain has been conferred with some of India’s most prestigious awards. In 1966, he was given the Padma Shri, and in 1973 he was honored with the Padma Bhushan. Husain was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986. Five years later, in 1991, Husain was awarded the Padma Vibhushan.

The stardom and respect that Husain held in the society was soon to be targeted.


It is said that Husain was a lover of poems, and had started showing interest in poems from a tender age. It is said that he learnt to write poems when he lived with his uncle in a madrasa in Baroda.

The creative side of Husain goes beyond his painting. He has won the Golden Bear award in 1967, at the International Film Festival at Berlin for his documentary “Through the Eyes of a Painter,” and later went to make many short films since then.


From the early 1990s Husain’s works had a series of protest by Hindu nationalist groups. In 1996, his 20 year old paintings were becoming subjects of controversial discussions. In a Hindi monthly magazine, Vichar Mimansa, a article titled “M.F. Husain: A Painter or Butcher” was published.

Moreover, eight criminal complaints were filed against him by some Hindu nationalist groups for his paintings of goddesses like Durga, Sarswati and Bharatmata.

His house was vandalized and had to face life threats before he fled the country imposing a self exile.


A man once honored by the government of India had to flee the country in fear of being killed by extremist group. The democratic country couldn’t do anything but watch one of the best creative artists that have ever been in the country take refuge elsewhere.

Intolerance towards creative work is not something new in the country. Freedom of expression is not so free in the country after all.

In 2010, Husain was conferred with the Qatari nationality, which is generally provided in the rare cases. It was said that Husain though was honored by the recognition; he was saddened by the fact that he was away from the place of birth, and had no hope return.

At the age of 95 on June 9, 2011, Husain died at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. As the then Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh said, “It was a national loss.”

Till the last day the great artist and his big dream of returning to a country that accepts him and his works remained a dream.

As a citizen of India, Husain brought fame, respect and honor in his own way. Every time he signed MF Husain at the end of a canvas a new perspective was added to the creative art of Indian history. Long live the memory of the ‘Picasso of India.’

 “A dashing, highly eccentric figure who dressed in impeccably tailored suits, he went barefoot and brandished an extra-long paintbrush as a slim cane.

While he started his painting without any formal training, he was consistent about his ambition to follow his interest. After getting his first big break in 1947, Husain went on to showcase his work at different parts of the country and the world.

In the next 10 years, Husain became one of the leading artists in India. 

Husain had many solo exhibitions to his credit, and he was also part of some of the most prestigious shows like Contemporary Indian Art, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1982; Six Indian Painters, Tate Gallery, London 1985; Modem Indian Painting, Hirschhom Museum, Washington 1986 and Contemporary Indian Art, Grey Art Gallery, New York 1986.

In 2011, during an auction his painting titled “Sprinkling Horses” was sold for $1.14 million. The auction which had 13 paintings in display had all the artwork sold at a total price of $4.2 million.


Husain’s horses are proud, powerful and valiant often matching or even overpowering the human figures they are opposing.

The horse in particular became a central part of his oeuvre since his first representation of the animal in 1951. They are depicted as strong creatures, usually galloping, with reared heads and tremendous movement. His inspiration to paint horses was derived from the scenes he witnessed as a fifteen year old boy: once a year during Muharram when the religious mourned the death of Imam Husain, the beloved grandson of Prophet (Pbuh). “…the earliest icon that he had a part in creating was the apocalyptic horse, Duldul. He was to remain loyal to that icon; it never strayed far from his imagination in his subsequent paintings.” 

(R. Bartholomew and S. Kapur, Husain, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1972, p. 32)

Husain’s horses are not plastic forms treated to stylistic variations; rather, they are sensuous creatures that have become his personal symbols. In this monumental work, the four white horses are dramatically intertwined before a paneled backdrop or screen from which a figure emerges. Through the uninhibited use of impasto and his choice of earthy tones in this work, Husain conveys the sense of raw unimpeded power of a herd of wild and untamed horses. According to E. Alkazi, horses are usually recognized as symbols of the sun and knowledge. They are associated with life giving and sustaining forces. Husain’s horses have become “a vehicle for multiple utterances — aggression, power and protection.” 

(R. Shahani, Let History Cut Across Me Without Me, New Delhi, 1993, p. 8)

Unique for this large masterwork, Sprinkling Horses is the pairing of the horse that at once symbolizes the artist M.F. Husain calmly entering the image, side by side and juxtaposed against the sprinkling of galloping equestrian vitality, denoting the inner and outer forces surrounding him.

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